What Are Common Mascara Ingredients?

Paraffin or other waxes may be used in mascaras to help color adhere to eyelashes.
A woman wearing mascara.
Beeswax is commonly used in mascara.
Cosmetics, including mascara.
A woman applying mascara to her eyelashes.
Linseed oil, which is often included in mascara.
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  • Written By: Gina Ritter
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 25 September 2014
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Mascara is a common type of eye makeup used to darken the eyelashes. Some wearers may use mascara to open and define the eye, or to lengthen or thicken the lashes. Mascara ingredients often include water, oils and waxes, and pigments such as iron oxide for color. Vitamins, such as pro-vitamin B5 for conditioning, as well as various other chemicals may be added. A growing spotlight on the natural market has many manufacturers of mascara looking for alternative ingredients.

Several kinds of oil can be used as a mascara ingredient, including mineral, sesame, and eucalyptus oil. Additional oils sometimes used include castor oil, linseed oil, and lanolin. Because eyelashes may regularly come into contact with moisture, a mascara manufacturer often relies on heavy base ingredients such as paraffin, carnauba wax, palm wax, or beeswax to keep the color ingredients stuck to the lashes. The wax also helps keep the lashes separated, lengthened, and thickened.

Some ingredients can be allergenic, or even considered carcinogenic or toxic. Some potentially concerning ingredients include ethyl acrylate, lacquer, and polypropylene. Even lanolin and paraffin can cause allergic reactions in some people.


Mascara is commonly made one of two ways: with or without water. In one manufacturing process, called anhydrous, no water is used and the ingredients are heated together. They’re usually then agitated in a vat by a propeller until they form the right semi-solid consistency. Once cooled, the mascara may be ready to be bottled and inspected for impurities and chemical composition.

In another form of mascara manufacturing, thickeners are normally mixed with water to form a lotion base that’s emulsified with other mascara ingredients. Similar to shaking a bottle of oil and vinegar, an emulsion is a suspension of one droplet inside another that wouldn’t normally mix together. Other ingredients, such as waxes, are heated separately from the lotion then brought together later in the process. Pigments are usually added when the ingredients are placed with the lotion base in a machine called a homogenizer. This high-speed mixer breaks the ingredients into small droplets that will not mix completely together, but the waxes and oils remain suspended inside the lotion for the life of the mascara and help to bind the ingredients.


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Post 5

@ZipLine-- They add different types of pigment to make colored mascaras. I know that red or pink colored mascaras contain a pigment called carmine (also labeled as C.I. 75470) which is made from insects. This is a very common ingredient in makeup and is found in everything from lipsticks to mascara.

Post 4

What about colored mascara? Where does the color come from?

Post 3

@ankara-- That's a good question. I don't think we know for sure because makeup companies don't want to reveal secret recipes. I think that they must put a lot of oils or waxes in them though because these keep water out.

Just think of when you put baby oil on your skin, it forms a barrier and doesn't let anything escape or enter. I think it must be the same with waterproof mascaras.

Post 2

Can someone tell me waterproof mascara ingredients? What is it that makes it resist water?

Post 1

I never knew that ingredients for mascara vary. This must be why some brands work better than others. It never occurred to me to compare ingredients and see which ones actually work best.

I'm assuming that the mascaras with waxes are the ones that make all the lashes stick together because wax is a sticky ingredient in general. I hate it when a mascara gives me the spider legs look.

Isn't there also a completely dry kind of mascara that they used to use in the old days. What type of ingredients are used in that?

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